It’s time for Asian sunscreen reviews. Some of these I’ve been asked about a lot, so it’s kind of a relief to get these out!
The video is here, keep scrolling for the text version (note: the video was sponsored by Skin1004, but this blog post isn’t.)
These are all Korean and Japanese sunscreens that aren’t approved in Western countries like Australia – except for the last one, which is actually a US sunscreen.
SKIN1004 Hyalu-Cica Water-Fit Sun Serum
- SPF 50+ PA++++ (KR)
- Filters: DHHB, Octyl Triazone, MBBT, DEBT
A lot of you have probably heard of SKIN1004, but if you haven’t – their centella ampoule is big on Korean beauty apps, their zombie masks that make it look like you’ve really overdone it with the TikTok “skincare hacks” exfoliating a month’s worth of dead skin are all over social media, and more recently their cleansing oil and Hyalu-Cica Water-Fit Sun Serum have been as well.
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They actually have 4 sunscreens in their range. This is the one I hear the most about, and I can understand why.
It’s a really lightweight chemical sunscreen with 4 of the newer filters that stay more on the skin surface so there’s less chance of irritation or potential health impacts, and absorb UV better so sunscreens can have lighter textures while still having high protection.
It’s made by Kolmar, who made a lot of the really popular sunscreens that came out in the last couple years, and it’s a similar style of product – it has that smooth moisturiser texture that’s just beautiful to apply and sits nicely under makeup. It glides on so smoothly, like soft butter on your… skin bread.
This is even more lightweight than the ones I’ve reviewed before from Isntree and Beauty of Joseon, so if you found those a bit heavy, you’ll probably like this. It dries down to feel like almost nothing.
It has a slightly dewy hydrating finish with no white cast on medium skin tones. There’s no added fragrance.
In terms of skincare actives, it has centella and a whole bunch of plant extracts, hyaluronic acid, glycerin and niacinamide, and it’s approved as a brightening and anti-wrinkle functional cosmetic in Korea.
Related post: Skincare Ingredient Spotlight: Centella Asiatica
OK, packaging connoisseur time – I love this pump top. You don’t see these a lot in Asian sunscreens. I am a huge fan of pump tops on sunscreens (even when they’re not twisty tops).
It makes it easy to apply a consistent amount, and you don’t accidentally apply less and less over time without noticing.
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Also, the pump top is flat like the tube, so it doesn’t take up extra space in my makeup bag. It looks round in product photos so I was actually kind of confused when it came in a standard flat Korean sunscreen box – I thought it was just me being unobservant because that usually explains a lot of stuff in my life. I don’t know why flat pump tops aren’t more of a thing, this makes such a big difference to me!
SKIN1004 Tone Brightening Tone-Up Sunscreen
- SPF 50+ PA++++ (KR)
- Filters: DHHB, Octyl Triazone, MBBT, DEBT, TiO2
I also tried out SKIN1004 Tone Brightening Tone-Up Sunscreen which comes in the same flat pump top packaging.
Tone Up sunscreens are a big thing in Asia. They basically leave a white cast on your skin on purpose to give a skin evening and brightening effect, like a tinted moisturiser that’s slightly lighter than your skin tone. It’s sort of like the Asian equivalent of bronzer.
This has mostly the same ingredients as the Water-Fit sunscreen with extra titanium dioxide and moisturising ingredients. It feels a little bit heavier and richer, but still lightweight.
Related Post: Whitening vs Brightening blog post
I don’t have a great history with tone up sunscreens. A lot of the time they make my face look weirdly pink and detached from my neck, and I just look like I’m having an allergic reaction.
But this one did actually make my skin look just subtly nicer and smoother. My skin tone was more even, but still very natural with no weird pinkness after it dried down (it took about 15 minutes to settle down before it got to that stage, so it did feel pretty sus at the start).
Because they are essentially tinted products, you have to apply tone-up sunscreens pretty evenly. This one was pretty forgiving, even for an unobservant disaster like me – there was a subtle white line under my chin, but it blended out really easily without pilling.
So I am more open to tone-up sunscreens now. I’ve been using this when I don’t want to go to the effort of putting makeup on top, but I want my skin to look a little nicer and I have the time to check for uneven marks before anyone sees me.
Related Post: How to reapply sunscreen over makeup
Kosé Suncut UV Perfect Essence Super Water Proof
- SPF 50+ PA++++ (JP)
- Filters: Octinoxate, Polysilicone-15, DHHB, Bemotrizinol
The next sunscreen is the Kosé Suncut UV Perfect Essence Super Water Proof. (Fun fact: Kose owns Tarte now).
Suncut sunscreens are super popular and I’ve been recommended this one over and over.
If you’re buying Suncut sunscreens be careful because a lot of them have similar names and packaging – there’s a gel version of this with the same name except for the word “essence” that also comes in a yellow tube.
This is a fragrance-free chemical sunscreen with mostly newer filters. It’s designed for outdoor activities, as you can tell from the “super water proof” and the surfing Goofy on the tube (this is limited edition packaging – I have to admit, I ordered this partly because of the packaging. If you want to hook me in, just put a face on it, I probably can’t even throw it out because seeing the face in the bin makes me feel so guilty…).
It’s also resistant to sweat and pollution.
It has a bit of a goopy texture and has this nice waterburst cooling effect when you rub it in. The cool feel comes from alcohol, but it doesn’t have an overwhelming alcohol smell and doesn’t sting my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of people say this doesn’t bother their skin as much as other sunscreens with alcohol.
Related post: Alcohol in skincare
It’s really hydrating, with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, plant extracts, royal jelly extract and collagen.
This is the one sunscreen in this post WITHOUT NIACINAMIDE – if you’re allergic to niacinamide you must be having the worst time finding products, this is probably worth checking out.
I thought this would be really shiny but it isn’t – after it dries down it’s quite matte and smooth and lightweight, and it isn’t tacky. There’s no white cast.
But this pilled up almost immediately when I ran my finger down my face. It balled up in little clear grains. And this is after I applied it on clean skin – it even happened when I put it on right after cleansing.
On the bright side it wasn’t very visible, but pilling does mean that sunscreen isn’t protecting your skin anymore.
Related Post: Top sunscreen recommendations 2022
From the reviews I’ve seen, it seems to really depends on your skin. There are lots of people who said it only pills when they use the wrong product underneath. I’m guessing it’s because I have oily skin, so it’s just having a conscious uncoupling with my skin oil – it probably works better on people with dry skin.
I think this is one of those sunscreens where if it doesn’t ball up on your skin it’s going to be one of your favourites, but I am just not one of Kose’s chosen ones.
Benton Air Fit UV Defense Sun Cream
- SPF 50+ PA++++ (KR)
- Filters: DHHB, Octyl Triazone, MBBT, DEBT
Here’s another lightweight Kolmar sunscreen – Benton Air Fit UV Defense Sun Cream.
I tested this side by side with the Beauty of Joseon one. The two have almost the same ingredient lists, and they’re pretty much exactly the same in texture, feel, how they apply, how they look on my skin.
The differences: it has a minty scent that comes from rosemary essential oil, and it looks green coming out of the tube.
I originally thought the Benton sunscreen was giving a cooling effect, but then the Beauty of Joseon sunscreen felt exactly the same going on, so I think it’s just the water and a bit of a psychological trick with the minty scent.
I was also hoping the green colour might neutralise some of the redness on my skin, but it doesn’t – it’s too faint to make a difference.
The skincare actives have a soothing theme – it has centella and a licorice extract.
As nice as it is, it has a bunch of claims that are a bit offputting to me.
First, they go on about how the ingredients are EWG Green Grade, which means they’re rated “safe” on the EWG’s very arbitrary made up scale (in case you’re new here, I don’t like the EWG).
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They say it’s “free from octinoxate” but they don’t say what’s so bad about octinoxate.
They say it’s “free from silicones” but it has two silicones (polymethylsilsesquioxane and caprylyl methicone) right there in the ingredients list, and they’re probably a big reason why it feels so nice and looks so good under makeup. Please show some respect for the silicones!
They say it’s “blue light protection tested”, but they don’t give any details about it (it’s been tested, but did it do well in the test? Can you share the results with the rest of the class?). I’m not really seeing anything in the ingredients list that’s an obvious blue light protector (the similar Kolmar sunscreens from other brands don’t have blue light claims).
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They also have this brand tagline about making “non-chemical” products which is just a bit silly – because everything is chemicals, but especially because they carefully say this sunscreen uses “organic UV filters” on the packaging, but on the website it says it’s a “chemical sunscreen”. (I’m assuming it’s because people kept asking them whether “organic” meant chemical or physical…)
Price-wise, it’s also very similar to the Beauty of Joseon sunscreen, so I’d just go for that unless you’re allergic to rice.
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Sunscreen
- SPF 50, broad spectrum (US)
- Filters: Zinc Oxide, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene
This sunscreen is a little different – it’s Glow Recipe’s Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Sunscreen.
Glow Recipe is a US brand with Korean American founders, Christine and Sarah. I’ve included it here because Glow Recipe products are very K-beauty in philosophy, with lightweight textures, a strong focus on hydration, a cute fruit theme, and actives popular in Korean products like niacinamide.
This launch was really exciting because it’s an Asian-style sunscreen that’s actually approved in the US and stocked in Sephora, so people in the US can actually go and try it out and not have to wait for shipping.
The downside of a US sunscreen is that their sunscreen ingredient options are pretty limited. So it was great to see Glow Recipe take on the challenge of trying to make a US-approved sunscreen that feels nice.
I really, really wanted to like this. But it did the one thing that’s unforgivable to me – it pills on my skin pretty badly. This sunscreen doesn’t pill on everyone – there are lots of people who love this sunscreen. But it does seem to pill on a good portion of people.
I really tried to make this work. I tried it on bare skin right after washing, after waiting 15 minutes or an hour after washing. Some people found it stopped pilling when they moisturised their skin really well, so I tried it over 3 different serums and 3 different moisturisers.
Every time, it was fine when I first applied it on my skin and I got my hopes up, but then after it set, if I even brushed against it, it pilled (and the pills were very visible!). I don’t know if it’s my skin or the humidity here in Sydney, or something else.
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There are probably some products out there that would stop it from pilling, but after trying 6 different things with pretty varied formulas, I was too sad to keep going. I’m the sort of person who usually puts on makeup right before leaving the house, so if a sunscreen pills a lot, it’s just too risky for my extreme lifestyle.
Otherwise it’s pretty nice. It’s not quite as lightweight as the Asian sunscreens but considering that it does only use US filters, they did well. There was some white cast, but not as much as I expected for an untinted sunscreen with 12% zinc oxide. It’s a little shiny but dewy skin is part of their brand. It’s quite hydrating (again, pretty impressive for 12% zinc oxide), and it has niacinamide with a bunch of hydrating ingredients.
I love that they did this, but I’d recommend that you try a sample before buying the full tube, because who it pills on seems to be a bit all over the place.
I hope you enjoyed this – let me know what else you want me to try!
The Skin1004 products were provided as part of the video sponsorship, the other sunscreens were received as PR samples with no obligation to review. This post contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially (at no extra cost to you), thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.